Tank-apalooza is at full force in the NBA as March winds down.
As websites, like HoopsRumors.com, run the NBA Reverse Standings, the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, and Boston Celtics fight for as many ping-pong balls in the 2014 NBA Draft as they can get their hands on.
With a potentially strong draft and exciting prospects like Duke’ forward Jabari Parker, Kansas’ duo of center Joel Embiid and forward Andrew Wiggins, and point guards Marcus Smart from Oklahoma State and international prospect Dante Exum from Australia, NBA teams are positioning themselves to find an impact player for the future.
The Boston Celtics are in full rebuilding mode in the 2013-14 season, after unloading future Hall of Fame icons Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets last summer for a plethora of players and future draft picks.
While Brooklyn learns what Boston general manager Danny Ainge did last season (both players are too far past their prime to be consistent contributors,) the Celtics are in the midst of a rebuild with new head coach Brad Stevens balancing and showcasing their veterans’ trade value, and getting playing time for the younger players to see who earns a spot on the team for the future.
Stuck in the middle of this dichotomy between prospects and trade bait is point guard Rajon Rondo.
A key figure in the Celtics “Big Three” era as the overlooked fourth star player, the often moody, but talented Rondo has reached the fourth year of his five-year contract extension. Due almost $13 million – $12.91 million to be exact, per Spotrac.com – in the final year of his contract in 2014-15, Rondo is in a tradeable position.
For the Boston Celtics, the big question this offseason is whether Rondo is a key player for the future in Boston to herald in a new team for the future? Or, if he is the key trading piece to rebuild Boston into a championship contender in the future?
With such a large contract already in place, and likely looking for a max-deal, this is the type of move that will either make or break Boston in the near future.
THE CASE FOR KEEPING RONDO:
If an NBA team is rebuilding, they need a star player to build around. Boston has 2012 first-round draft pick Jared Sullinger in line to probably be their future star, but after missing almost all of 2012-13 regular-season due to back surgery, his future is still muddled. Beyond Sullinger – who is averaging 13 points per game and 8 rebounds per game in 2013-14 to date, per Basketball Reference - the Celtics have a number of high-salaried veterans who may simply be future trade bait.
Forward Gerald Wallace was the onerous contract Boston was required to absorb from Brooklyn for the Pierce-Garnett dump, and his four-years with $40 million remaining make it unlikely a team trades for him short of his expiring contract season in 2015. Ditto for fellow forward Jeff Green, who was inked to a four-years for $35 million, that will continue to hang around the Celtics neck like an albatross for the next few seasons.
Beyond the gruesome two-some at forward, the Celtics have forward/center Kris “Mr. Kardashian” Humphries potentially coming off the books this year, clearing some $12 million in cap space – per Spotrac.com. While undersized power forward Brandon Bass, center Joel Anthony, and sent-home forward Keith Bogans all eat up almost $15 million per-season in cap space, until they find a team willing to pick them up for a year or two of production. Or, Boston could stockpile expiring contracts and load-up for an influx of cap space for free agency. Bass and Anthony’s deals end next season, like Rondo’s contract, and Bogans’ contract concludes in 2015, like Green and Wallace’s contracts.
Beyond these players – none of whom are future building blocks – the Celtics have role players, like the oft-injured defensive specialist guard Avery Bradley, mid-level exception pickup guard Phil Pressey, and rookie center Kelly Olynyk. All three may have a role in the future, but none of them are potential impact players like Rondo is for Boston.
The Celtics need a star player to build around – it’s that simple. And they have little other than Rondo.
The longest tenured Celtic is only 28-years-old and still in his prime. He has the potential to penetrate and score in the paint, the length and aggressiveness at only 6-foot-1 to average almost five rebounds-per-game, and is one of the best passing guards in the NBA annually.
Every team needs a central player to build around, as they revamp their team for the future.
THE CASE FOR TRADING RONDO:
The Boston Celtics are in position to land a top-five draft selection and pick-up an impact player for the future.
The more good, young players they can surround their building block with, the better the team will be in the future. At this point with the light at the end of the tunnel a long way off, the Celtics cannot have players with long-term contracts eating up cap space, that could be better allocated for the reconstruction.
The Celtics have one player on their roster who is capable of bringing back young players and draft picks, and that’s Rondo. While not all teams have the need for a veteran point guard, who is not a high scorer, there are numerous destinations for the Celtics point guard.
A fit may be in Detroit, where the Celtics could grab some size and draft picks with center/power forward Greg Monroe. With good friend Josh Smith likely to be making a pitch to the Detroit’ front office to finally bring in Rondo and allow the two to play together, this may be the most likely destination for Rondo. A good friend, a strong fan base in place, and a team with the draft picks and talented big body Boston desires, makes Detroit a great fit for Rondo.
The Charlotte Bobcats are a team that is rebuilding and looking for a player to build around with former Celtics forward Al Jefferson. Forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and big man prospect Bismark Biyombo are players that Boston could use to showcase and trade or build around.
Another long rumored trade partner is the Sacramento Kings.
With young scorers DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay in need of a player to get them the ball in scoring position, the Celtics may be a team willing to deal Rondo. While the Kings do not have a lot of draft picks to offer, they do have attractive young players like Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton – who the Celtics may want.
The Toronto Raptors are a franchise that could look for the star power to fill seats in the Great White North. Ainge would likely welcome guard Kyle Lowry and a plethora of draft picks in return for Rondo. Lowry is solid, cheap, and less contentious than Rondo.
Boston are going nowhere fast for the next few seasons.
Wasting cap space, playing time, and not trading their top chip in his prime does not make sense for the rebuilding team. Boston needs to build for the future, and they need to start now.
They do face a conundrum with star point guard Rajon Rondo.
Whether Rondo is that key piece of the puzzle in the future for Boston, or the key trading piece to rebuild remains to be seen.
Either way, the Celtics need to make a decision on his future soon. What they choose to do will shape the direction of the franchise into a perennial cellar dweller if wrong, or springboard them back into championship contention.